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The Way of the Worldby William Congreve
"Occasionally a book comes to hand that is so satisfactory that one would not change it in the slightest detail. Miss Lynch's edition of the greatest of all Restoration comedies of manners in such a book. . . . A model for 20th-century editors." -Choice See more details below
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"Occasionally a book comes to hand that is so satisfactory that one would not change it in the slightest detail. Miss Lynch's edition of the greatest of all Restoration comedies of manners in such a book. . . . A model for 20th-century editors." -Choice
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The Way of the World
By William Congreve, Philip Smith
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ACT THE FIRST
MIRABELL and FAINALL rising from cards.
MIR. You are a fortunate man, Mr. Fainall!
FAIN. Have we done?
MIR. What you please: I'll play on to entertain you.
FAIN. No, I'll give you your revenge another time, when you are not so indifferent; you are thinking of something else now, and play too negligently; the coldness of a losing gamester lessens the pleasure of the winner. I'd no more play with a man that slighted his ill fortune than I'd make love to a woman who undervalued the loss of her reputation.
MIR. You have a taste extremely delicate, and are for refining on your pleasures.
FAIN. Prithee, why so reserved? Something has put you out of humour.
MIR. Not at all: I happen to be grave to-day, and you are gay; that's all.
FAIN. Confess, Millamant and you quarrelled last night after I left you; my fair cousin has some humours that would tempt the patience of a Stoic. What, some coxcomb came in, and was well received by her, while you were by?
MIR. Witwoud and Petulant; and what was worse, her aunt, your wife's mother, my evil genius; or to sum up all in her own name, my old Lady Wishfort came in.
FAIN. Oh, there it is then! She has a lasting passion for you, and with reason. — What, then my wife was there?
MIR. Yes, and Mrs. Marwood, and three or four more, whom I never saw before. Seeing me, they all put on their grave faces, whispered one another; then complained aloud of the vapours, and after fell into a profound silence.
FAIN. They had a mind to be rid of you.
MIR. For which reason I resolved not to stir. At last the good old lady broke through her painful taciturnity with an invective against long visits. I would not have understood her, but Millamant joining in the argument, I rose, and, with a constrained smile, told her I thought nothing was so easy as to know when a visit began to be troublesome. She reddened, and I withdrew, without expecting her reply.
FAIN. You were to blame to resent what she spoke only in compliance with her aunt.
MIR. She is more mistress of herself than to be under the necessity of such a resignation.
FAIN. What! though half her fortune depends upon her marrying with my lady's approbation?
MIR. I was then in such a humour, that I should have been better pleased if she had been less discreet.
FAIN. Now, I remember, I wonder not they were weary of you; last night was one of their cabal nights; they have 'em three times a-week, and meet by turns at one another's apartments, where they come together like the coroner's inquest, to sit upon the murdered reputations of the week. You and I are excluded; and it was once proposed that all the male sex should be excepted; but somebody moved that, to avoid scandal, there might be one man of the community; upon which motion Witwoud and Petulant were enrolled members.
MIR. And who may have been the foundress of this sect? My Lady Wishfort, I warrant, who publishes her detestation of mankind; and full of the vigour of fifty-five, declares for a friend and ratafia; and let posterity shift for itself, she'll breed no more.
FAIN. The discovery of your sham addresses to her, to conceal your love to her niece, has provoked this separation; had you dissembled better, things might have continued in the state of nature.
MIR. I did as much as man could, with any reasonable conscience; I proceeded to the very last act of flattery with her, and was guilty of a song in her commendation. Nay, I got a friend to put her into a lampoon and compliment her with the imputation of an affair with a young fellow, which I carried so far, that I told her the malicious town took notice that she was grown fat of a sudden; and when she lay in of a dropsy, persuaded her she was reported to be in labour. The devil's in't, if an old woman is to be flattered further, unless a man should endeavour downright personally to debauch her; and that my virtue forbade me. But for the discovery of this amour I am indebted to your friend, or your wife's friend, Mrs. Marwood.
FAIN. What should provoke her to be your enemy, unless she has made you advances which you have slighted? Women do not easily forgive omissions of that nature.
MIR. She was always civil to me till of late. — I confess I am not one of those coxcombs who are apt to interpret a woman's good manners to her prejudice, and think that she who does not refuse 'em everything, can refuse 'em nothing.
FAIN. You are a gallant man, Mirabell; and though you may have cruelty enough not to satisfy a lady's longing, you have too much generosity not to be tender of her honour. Yet you speak with an indifference which seems to be affected, and confesses you are conscious of a negligence.
MIR. You pursue the argument with a distrust that seems to be unaffected, and confesses you are conscious of a concern for which the lady is more indebted to you than is your wife.
FAIN. Fie, fie, friend! if you grow censorious I must leave you. — I'll look upon the gamesters in the next room.
MIR. Who are they?
FAIN. Petulant and Witwoud. — [To BETTY.] Bring me some chocolate.
MIR. Betty, what says your clock?
BET. Turned of the last canonical hour, sir.
MIR. How pertinently the jade answers me! — [Looking on his watch.] — Ha! almost one o'clock! — Oh, y'are come!
Well, is the grand affair over? You have been something tedious.
FOOT. Sir, there's such coupling at Pancras that they stand behind one another, as 'twere in a country dance. Ours was the last couple to lead up; and no hopes appearing of dispatch; besides, the parson growing hoarse, we were afraid his lungs would have failed before it came to our turn; so we drove round to Duke's-place; and there they were rivetted in a trice.
MIR. So, so, you are sure they are married.
FOOT. Married and bedded, sir; I am witness.
MIR. Have you the certificate?
FOOT. Here it is, sir.
MIR. Has the tailor brought Waitwell's clothes home, and the new liveries?
FOOT. Yes, sir.
MIR. That's well. Do you go home again, d'ye hear, and adjourn the consummation till further orders. Bid Waitwell shake his ears, and Dame Partlet rustle up her feathers, and meet me at one o'clock by Rosamond's Pond, that I may see her before she returns to her lady; and as you tender your ears be secret.
MIRABELL, FAINALL, and BETTY
FAIN. Joy of your success, Mirabell; you look pleased.
MIR. Aye; I have been engaged in a matter of some sort of mirth, which is not yet ripe for discovery. I am glad this is not a cabal night. I wonder, Fainall, that you who are married, and of consequence should be discreet, will suffer your wife to be of such a party.
FAIN. Faith, I am not jealous. Besides, most who are engaged are women and relations; and for the men, they are of a kind too contemptible to give scandal.
MIR. I am of another opinion. The greater the coxcomb, always the more the scandal: for a woman who is not a fool can have but one reason for associating with a man who is one.
FAIN. Are you jealous as often as you see Witwoud entertained by Millamant?
MIR. Of her understanding I am, if not of her person.
FAIN. You do her wrong; for, to give her her due, she has wit.
MIR. She has beauty enough to make any man think so; and complaisance enough not to contradict him who shall tell her so.
FAIN. For a passionate lover, methinks you are a man somewhat too discerning in the failings of your mistress.
MIR. And for a discerning man, somewhat too passionate a lover; for I like her with all her faults; nay, like her for her faults. Her follies are so natural, or so artful, that they become her; and those affectations which in another woman would be odious, serve but to make her more agreeable. I'll tell thee, Fainall, she once used me with that insolence, that in revenge I took her to pieces; sifted her, and separated her failings; I studied 'em, and got 'em by rote. The catalogue was so large, that I was not without hopes one day or other to hate her heartily: to which end I so used myself to think of 'em, that at length, contrary to my design and expectation, they gave me every hour less and less disturbance; till in a few days it became habitual to me to remember 'em without being displeased. They are now grown as familiar to me as my own frailties; and in all probability, in a little time longer, I shall like 'em as well.
FAIN. Marry her, marry her! Be half as well acquainted with her charms, as you are with her defects, and my life on't, you are your own man again.
MIR. Say you so?
FAIN. Aye, aye, I have experience: I have a wife, and so forth.
MES. Is one squire Witwoud here?
BET. Yes, what's your business?
MES. I have a letter for him, from his brother Sir Wilfull, which I am charged to deliver into his own hands.
BET. He's in the next room, friend — that way. [Exit Messenger.
MIR. What, is the chief of that noble family in town, Sir Wilfull Witwoud?
FAIN. He is expected to-day. Do you know him?
MIR. I have seen him. He promises to be an extraordinary person; I think you have the honour to be related to him.
FAIN. Yes; he is half-brother to this Witwoud by a former wife, who was sister to my Lady Wishfort, my wife's mother. If you marry Millamant, you must call cousins too.
MIR. I had rather be his relation than his acquaintance.
FAIN. He comes to town in order to equip himself for travel.
MIR. For travel! Why, the man that I mean is above forty.
FAIN. No matter for that; 'tis for the honour of England, that all Europe should know we have blockheads of all ages.
MIR. I wonder there is not an act of parliament to save the credit of the nation, and prohibit the exportation of fools.
FAIN. By no means; 'tis better as 'tis. 'Tis better to trade with a little loss, than to be quite eaten up with being overstocked.
MIR. Pray, are the follies of this knight-errant, and those of the squire his brother, anything related?
FAIN. Not at all; Witwoud grows by the knight, like a medlar grafted on a crab. One will melt in your mouth, and t'other set your teeth on edge; one is all pulp, and the other all core.
MIR. So one will be rotten before he be ripe, and the other will be rotten without ever being ripe at all.
FAIN. Sir Wilfull is an odd mixture of bashfulness and obstinacy. — But when he's drunk he's as loving as the monster in The Tempest, and much after the same manner. To give t'other his due, he has something of good nature, and does not always want wit.
MIR. Not always: but as often as his memory fails him, and his commonplace of comparisons. He is a fool with a good memory, and some few scraps of other folks' wit. He is one whose conversation can never be approved, yet it is now and then to be endured. He has indeed one good quality, he is not exceptious; for he so passionately affects the reputation of understanding raillery, that he will construe an affront into a jest; and call downright rudeness and ill language satire and fire.
FAIN. If you have a mind to finish his picture, you have an opportunity to do it at full length. Behold the original!
WIT. Afford me your compassion, my dears! Pity me, Fainall! Mirabell, pity me!
MIR. I do, from my soul.
FAIN. Why, what's the matter?
WIT. No letters for me, Betty?
BET. Did not a messenger bring you one but now, sir?
WIT. Aye, but no other?
BET. No, sir.
WIT. That's hard, that's very hard. — A messenger! a mule, a beast of burden! he has brought me a letter from the fool my brother, as heavy as a panegyric in a funeral sermon, or a copy of commendatory verses from one poet to another: and what's worse, 'tis as sure a forerunner of the author, as an epistle dedicatory.
MIR. A fool, and your brother, Witwoud!
WIT. Aye, aye, my half-brother. My half-brother he is; no nearer, upon honour.
MIR. Then 'tis possible he may be but half a fool.
WIT. Good, good, Mirabell, le drôle! Good, good; hang him, don't let's talk of him. — Fainall, how does your lady? Gad, I say anything in the world to get this fellow out of my head. I beg pardon that I should ask a man of pleasure, and the town, a question at once so foreign and domestic. But I talk like an old maid at a marriage; I don't know what I say: but she's the best woman in the world.
FAIN. 'Tis well you don't know what you say, or else your commendation would go near to make me either vain or jealous.
WIT. No man in town lives well with a wife but Fainall. — Your judgement, Mirabell.
MIR. You had better step and ask his wife, if you would be credibly informed.
WIT. My dear, I ask ten thousand pardons — gad, I have forgot what I was going to say to you!
MIR. I thank you heartily, heartily.
WIT. No, but prithee excuse me: my memory is such a memory.
MIR. Have a care of such apologies, Witwoud; for I never knew a fool but he affected to complain, either of the spleen or his memory.
FAIN. What have you done with Petulant?
WIT. He's reckoning his money — my money it was. — I have no luck to-day.
FAIN. You may allow him to win of you at play: for you are sure to be too hard for him at repartee; since you monopolize the wit that is between you, the fortune must be his of course.
MIR. I don't find that Petulant confesses the superiority of wit to be your talent, Witwoud.
WIT. Come, come, you are malicious now, and would breed debates. — Petulant's my friend, and a very honest fellow, and a very pretty fellow, and has a smattering — faith and troth, a pretty deal of an odd sort of a small wit: nay, I'll do him justice. I'm his friend, I won't wrong him neither. — And if he had any judgement in the world, he would not be altogether contemptible. Come, come, don't detract from the merits of my friend.
FAIN. You don't take your friend to be over-nicely bred?
WIT. No, no, hang him, the rogue has no manners at all, that I must own: no more breeding than a bum-bailiff, that I grant you — 'tis pity, faith; the fellow has fire and life.
MIR. What, courage?
WIT. Hum, faith, I don't know as to that, I can't say as to that. Yes, faith, in a controversy, he'll contradict anybody.
MIR. Though 'twere a man whom he feared, or a woman whom he loved.
WIT. Well, well, he does not always think before he speaks — we have all our failings: you are too hard upon him, you are, faith. Let me excuse him — I can defend most of his faults, except one or two: one he has, that's the truth on't; if he were my brother, I could not acquit him — that, indeed, I could wish were otherwise.
MIR. Aye, marry, what's that, Witwoud?
WIT. 0 pardon me! — Expose the infirmities of my friend! — No, my dear, excuse me there.
FAIN. What, I warrant he's unsincere, or 'tis some such trifle.
WIT. No, no; what if he be? 'tis no matter for that, his wit will excuse that: a wit should no more be sincere, than a woman constant; one argues a decay of parts, as t'other of beauty.
MIR. Maybe you think him too positive?
WIT. No, no, his being positive is an incentive to argument, and keeps up conversation.
FAIN. Too illiterate?
WIT. That! that's his happiness: his want of learning gives him the more opportunities to show his natural parts.
MIR. He wants words?
WIT. Aye: but I like him for that now; for his want of words gives me the pleasure very often to explain his meaning.
FAIN. He's impudent?
WIT. No, that's not it.
MIR. What! He speaks unseasonable truths sometimes, because he has not wit enough to invent an evasion?
WIT. Truths! ha! ha! ha! No, no; since you will have it — I mean, he never speaks truth at all — that's all. He will lie like a chambermaid, or a woman of quality's porter. Now that is a fault.
COACH. Is Master Petulant here, mistress?
COACH. Three gentlewomen in a coach would speak with him.
FAIN. 0 brave Petulant! three!
BET. I'll tell him.
COACH. You must bring two dishes of chocolate and a glass of cinnamon-water.
[Exeunt BETTY and Coachman.
WIT. That should be for two fasting strumpets, and a bawd troubled with the wind. Now you may know what the three are.
MIR. You are very free with your friend's acquaintance.
WIT. Aye, aye, friendship without freedom is as dull as love without enjoyment, or wine without toasting. But to tell you a secret, these are trulls whom he allows coach-hire, and something more, by the week, to call on him once a day at public places.
WIT. You shall see he won't go to 'em, because there's no more company here to take notice of him. — Why, this is nothing to what he used to do: before he found out this way, I have known him call for himself.
FAIN. Call for himself! What dost thou mean?
WIT. Mean! Why, he would slip you out of this chocolate-house, just when you had been talking to him — as soon as your back was turned — whip he was gone! — then trip to his lodging, clap on a hood and scarf, and a mask, slap into a hackney-coach, and drive hither to the door again in a trice, where he would send in for himself; that I mean, call for himself, wait for himself; nay, and what's more, not finding himself, sometimes leave a letter for himself.
MIR. I confess this is something extraordinary. — I believe he waits for himself now, he is so long a-coming: Oh! I ask his pardon.
Enter PETULANT and BETTY
BET. Sir, the coach stays.
PET. Well, well; I come. — 'Sbud, a man had as good be a professed midwife as a professed whoremaster, at this rate! To be knocked up and raised at all hours, and in all places! Pox on 'em, I won't come! — D'ye hear, tell 'em I won't come — let 'em snivel and cry their hearts out.
FAIN. You are very cruel, Petulant.
PET. All's one, let it pass: I have a humour to be cruel.
MIR. I hope they are not persons of condition that you use at this rate.
PET. Condition! condition's a dried fig, if I am not in humour! — By this hand, if they were your — a — a — your what d'ye-call-'ems themselves, they must wait or rub off, if I want appetite.
Excerpted from The Way of the World by William Congreve, Philip Smith. Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
William Congreve (1670-1729) was an English playwright, and one of the most sophisticated exponent of the comedy of manners during the Restoration era. Congreve wrote five plays before he was 30. His first, The Old Bachelor, was an enormous success at Drury Lane in 1693, in a production starring Thomas Betterton and Mrs Bracegirdle. According to Congreve he wrote the play to amuse himself during a convalescence. The Double Dealer (1694) was not so well received but in 1695 he produced another hit, Love for Love (again with Betterton and Mrs Bracegirdle), to open the new Lincoln's Inns Fields Theatre. Its success secured his reputation and earned him a share in the theatre. His promise to write at least one play a year for the theatre of which he was now a part owner, was unfortunately not fulfilled. Congreve's only tragedy, The Mourning Bride (1697), was his most popular work during his lifetime but is now rarely seen. It starred Mrs Bracegirdle as Almeria, a part that became much coveted by tragic actresses. In 1700 The Way of the World - a highly sophisticated and complex work now considered his masterpiece - met with a cool reception. This failure, together with his continued discomfort at having been attacked in Jeremy Collier's influential pamphlet A Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage (1698), persuaded him to retire. (Congreve had replied to Collier with little effect in Amendments of Mr Collier's False and Imperfect Citations.) Voltaire later visited him and accused him of wasting his genius. Congreve told him he wished to be visited as a gentleman, not as an author. To this Voltaire replied that if Mr Congreve were only a gentleman, he would not have bothered to call upon him. Congreve was by all accounts a warm man who won the love and respect of his many friends. John Dryden called him the equal of Shakespeare, Alexander Pope dedicated his translation of the Iliad to him in 1715, and John Gay called him an 'unreproachful man'. When he died he left nearly all of his £10,000 estate to his mistress, Henrietta, the second Duchess of Marlborough, who arranged for his burial in Westminster Abbey.
Brian Gibbons is a distinguished scholar and editor of Shakespeare and other early modern dramatists. He is the author of many critical studies and a General Editor of the New Mermaids and the New Cambridge Shakespeare series.
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